A New Member of the Family

How did you acclimate to a new member joining your family?

It’s not an easy transition, right? My family has recently expanded. No, not with another child, but with a pet. A nine month old cat from our local animal shelter. Our family has been talking about getting an animal for a while. The kids were hoping for a pet for Christmas, but there was just too much going on, and we told the kids not to expect one so they wouldn’t get their hopes up. Following the holidays we revisited the idea of getting a pet. My husband and I agreed there would probably never be an ideal time to get an animal (there’s always something that is going to be on), but if we wanted the kids to experience the joy and responsibility of raising an animal the time was now. So we got in the car and headed to the shelter with two very excited kids.

I should have known when we walked into the shelter that we would be walking out with a pet, but foolishly thought we’d just look and have time to continue to prepare before bringing one home.  The kids saw the cat, everyone thought the cat was a good fit, so the cat got a new home…with us. My husband and I both grew up with pets. Our respective pets lived mainly outdoors. Living in a high traffic area with cold and damp weather, our cat will be an indoor pet so we needed to quickly prepare for our new arrival. Conveniently, there was an pet store practically next door just waiting for folks like us to come on in. 🙂 We grabbed everything we thought we would need, headed back to the shelter, got our cat and headed home. We scrambled to get prepared, but running over to a pet store and stocking up on supplies might get you physically prepared, but not mentally prepared. If the cat had come in, liked where the food and water was, found an easy place to sleep, etc. it would have been wonderful. But like any new member of the family, there was going to be an adjustment period. We were ready for starting the cat off in a small space (thanks to the shelter’s guidance). We weren’t ready for the cat’s near constant meowing once it was in our house, or for the cat to reject the kitty litter and go outside the box (yep, got to experience that on day one), my husband and I learned that while we knew a lot about raising animals, we still have more to learn.

I went to bed the first night thinking what have we done? What have we gotten ourselves into? I woke early the next morning thinking are we really ready to be this cat’s caregivers? I was taken back to when I first became a mom. Regardless of the long preparation (9 months) while the baby was growing inside me, I still felt ill-prepared when my son first came home. I’d taken classes, asked questions, gotten the house ready, but still I had the same questions…what have we done and gotten ourselves into? Are we going to be good parents?

I know it will take a while for our cat to adjust to our home and us, and us him. The kids love the cat and the cat is quickly taking to the kids. Pets played a big role growing up. I can recall my pets giving a sympathetic ear when I was down, or sitting in my lap just when I needed someone. Pets are magical in that way, and I hope my kids will have the same experience as I.

Are you a pet owner? How did your family adjust to having a new pet?

 

What Brings Us Together

It’s Super Bowl Sunday. An American tradition of coming together with family and friends and watching the big game, while enjoying rich food and celebrating competition.

Our family found the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet in recent years which airs at the same time as the Super Bowl. In the Puppy Bowl they do an animal take on the big game with puppies of different breeds playing together. And while there is some competition (e.g. which dog will finish the task first) it is more about watching these adorable animals interact. My youngest son loves puppies and anything ‘cute’ so the Puppy Bowl is a hit for him. My oldest son, husband and I found it quite cute ourselves after watching it for a few minutes. It is much more enjoyable for us than watching violent hits, boasting players and beer commercials, and I should note I actually like watching football normally. The Super Bowl just seems like a game on steroids (literally and figuratively?).

With all the chaos of the last week the Puppy Bowl got me thinking. Animals don’t differentiate between people. Animals are eager and willing to meet (and play) with people they have just met happily (unless, of course, they have been mistreated). We should take a lesson from the animals playbook.  Our pets and our love for them bring us together.  People from all races, religions, and countries love their pets. People’s love for these creatures is universal. Animals have a magical quality of meeting us where we are, and excepting us how we are without judgement. They provide love, comfort, companionship, and joy (and much more). My sons love animals and are asking us for a pet (and we’re hoping there may be some in our future). My husband and I grew up with animals and remember how important they were to us.

Puppies aren’t the only cute critters having a bowl game today. There is also the Kitten Bowl on the Hallmark Channel. My youngest is looking forward to seeing both the kittens and puppies play, and so is the rest of my family. We might tape the ‘big game’ and fast forward through to see the commercials later, and while either the Patriots or Falcons will become the Super Bowl Champions, the animals are winning out this year.

How is your family celebrating it being Super Bowl Sunday?  What do you and your family love most about animals?

 

The End

We just finished reading the book My Dog Skip by Willie Morris. It is a touching story about a boy and his dog. I had seen the movie several years ago and thought our sons would enjoy it.

At the end of the book, the author speaks of Skip’s passing and how Skip is buried not under the elm tree, but in his heart. As I read the last two pages to my sons I reflected on pets I had had growing up, and one in particular that reminded me of Willie and his relationship with Skip. Socks was my cat of 18 years when she passed. I had had her since I was 11 years old. She was a member of the family, gave unconditional love, seemed to be attuned to my feelings (showing great empathy and sympathy), and has been solely missed since her passing.

As I read the last few pages of My Dog Skip, my voice cracked and tears came to my eyes. I tried to hold the tears back, taking deep breaths and pausing, but it didn’t work. I cried and my kids saw it.

My kids asked, “Are you crying?” to which I replied, “Yes, because it’s sad.” They both looked at me quizzically for a moment. It was the first time they had seen their mom cry openly in front of them, tears of sadness. Prior I had only shared tears of joy. I continued to read the last few sentences, trying but failing to hide my feelings. When I said “The End” my oldest son burst into tears, and continued crying. My husband and I tried to console him. At first I thought he was crying because I had been crying, but soon understood that he was crying because my crying confirmed what the book told us. Skip was dead.

I believe this is the first time my son grasped that things don’t live forever. It’s a hard concept to understand as a child. He started to understand that we all will die one day, even him. He was very upset that my husband and I would die one day. I know I felt the same way at the idea of losing my parents as a child, and still get teary-eyed thinking about that happening in the future. It’s inevitable, but I still doesn’t make it any easier.

What struck my husband and I about what occurred was how we handled the situation. First I attempted to talk to my son about death. I didn’t try to sugarcoat it or promise that it wouldn’t happen for a long time, but reminded him that life is a gift, that we need to take steps to try to live as long as possible eating healthy things, exercising and being safe, but we also need to figure out how to enjoy it while we’re here. I explained that we have to treasure the time we have together and work to make the most of it while we have it together. He seemed to understand all that I was saying, but it didn’t stop the crying. It was upsetting to see him this way, and a part of me wanted to say whatever was needed to get him back to a calm or happy state, but I recognized the importance of the discussion we were having.

At one point, my son got angry with himself for continuing to cry and said, “I can’t wait until I’m older and braver.” “Why do you say that?” I asked. “Because I’ll be braver, and won’t cry so easily.” I reminded him that Mom is much older and still cries. He seemed to think about this for a minute as if understanding it might be okay to feel his emotions as he grew older. What a great moment to be a part of.

My husband sat with my son following me and talked to my son about death. After a while, and seeing that continuing to talk about death was only going to lengthen the time our son was crying, he tried to turn the subject to happier things, upcoming trips we have planned, and making breakfast in the morning. While it didn’t completely work, we knew we needed to give our son some time to work through his newfound knowledge and feelings in his own way.

It wasn’t easy, but was necessary.

As a parent, we all want to make our child happy and hate to see them upset. A typical reaction is to help your child “get over” the negative feeling and push them back into a positive one, but that comes at an expense of your child missing the opportunity to gain a needed tool to deal with negative emotions as they get older. Being able to help your child feel the negative feeling and work through it is a powerful tool we can provide. It might not feel comfortable for us as parents, but many things about being a parent aren’t.

It’s good to cry, it’s good to show our kids we all experience feelings, even the hard ones as adults. It makes us vulnerable to each other. It makes our bonds stronger while we’re here on earth and beyond “The End.”

How do you help your child experience their emotions? How have you helped your child deal with the death of a loved one?